Devon’s wild beavers have been declared disease free, paving the way for their return to the wild on the River Otter in south Devon. Defra had expressed fears that the animals could be carrying a tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis (EM) that could spread disease to humans and the potential for disease was also a key argument of others who opposed the beavers remaining in the wild.
A total of nine beavers have been found on the river and five of these were captured – including all the adult animals (the remaining four juveniles are sufficiently mature to look after themselves). It was the adults that had to be tested because, as their origins were unknown, they carried a potential risk of EM. As EM can’t be passed between beavers there was no risk that the juveniles (born on the river) carried the tapeworm.
Steve Hussey from the Devon Wildlife Trust, which is managing the wild beavers in Devon, told BBC Countryfile Magazine:
“At every stage of this delicate process the welfare of the beavers has been paramount. As part of a licence agreement with Natural England the animals have had to be trapped and tested for disease. They have received expert care throughout their time away from the river, including testing from staff of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. We’re very hopeful that the beavers will be returned to the River Otter soon.”